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Geography Students Partner with City Staff on Wayfinding Project

"From Signs to Minds" report cover

Three geography majors, working with faculty mentor Christopher Cusack, coordinated with staff at the Keene City Planning and Parks and Recreation departments during the fall semester on a real-life project to look at ways signage contributes to navigating the city on foot, in motor vehicles, and on bicycle.

“This project investigates the adequacy of navigational signs on bicycle trails around town, the overuse of signage on a busy street, and the overall feeling of safety in relation to high traffic crosswalks,” seniors Brittany LaFleur, Zachary Pearo, and Jennamarie Moody write in the abstract to their paper, “From Signs to Minds: Wayfaring in Keene.”

“The impetus for this project came through conversations with city staff members who have long been supportive of our geography students,” says Prof. Cusack. “In this particular project, the students benefited from sharing of data and, perhaps more importantly, the sharing of time by members of the Planning Department and Parks and Recreation Department. We are truly appreciative for their contributions to this research.”

As the students explain in their report, “wayfinding” refers to “one’s navigational skills and the instruments used to guide travelers” – for instance, map, compass, and landmarks. For the project, they proposed three hypotheses:

  1. Signage along Keene bike trails is inadequate, making it difficult for residents and visitors to navigate and utilize the trail system.
  2. The many and varied signs along Keene’s Main Street do not improve Keene State students’ ability to navigate around town; that skill comes with time and experience moving around the city.
  3. Safety crossing streets is still a concern, even though new features have been added to some Main Street crosswalks.

The students researched ways other cities handle navigational signage and pedestrian safety, and took a close look at Keene’s handling of wayfaring. They surveyed Keene State students to see how well they thought they could get around the city and whether they could identify major landmarks on a map. They asked pedestrians at the crosswalks on lower Main Street by campus to rate their feelings of safety in crossing.

City planners and Parks and Rec staff provided data and expertise for the project, and the results will be used to assist the College, the Keene Planning Department, and the Keene Department of Parks and Recreation with future development projects.

Here’s what they learned:

Students who had spent two years on campus were indeed better than those who’d been enrolled for six months at identifying places of interest on a map. Still, no single place was correctly identified by all of the survey respondents, and not all students were able to locate Keene State College on the map.

The researchers suggest students “would benefit from a map with important destinations and businesses, as well as improved wayfinding signage on the bike trails.” Signs along Main Street should be remade so they are consistent, they added.

The extensive network of bicycle trails, they determined, is extensive – and also sorely in need of signs that list destinations and distances.

The student researchers spent 16 hours observing crosswalks on Main Street adjacent to the campus. During those 16 hours, the street was crossed 1,161 times, with most pedestrians crossing in front of Rhodes Hall. Of 55 pedestrians surveyed, 32 reported that they have nearly missed being struck by a car. The researchers suggest flashing signs and speed bumps, starting with the Rhodes hall crosswalk.

Link to the full report and other student projects via the Geography Department’s website.

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